Hello everybody.  My name is Eric Kidd.  I’m a director in the Windows Server Division at Microsoft, responsible for leading the product development of Windows Server 2003 R2.  That means I work with marketing in defining the release as a product and I offer leadership in product development and successful release execution across the Windows organization and its partners.

And my name is Mark Harris.  When I started at Microsoft over 10 years ago as a software design engineer in test, I never thought I’d have the chance to be involved at this level with shipping a Windows Server release.  It has been my pleasure since late 2004 to work directly with Eric and the shiproom team, driving day-to-day decisions like bug fixes and release schedules, and coordinating the development effort for the release of Windows Server 2003 R2.

We’re writing to you today because yesterday we released R2 to manufacturing – the final-step before the product becomes generally available to the public (a little more time is needed before you see it on the shelf of your local software store, to produce the CDs, boxes, manuals, etc – that’s the manufacturing part).  We thought we’d take this opportunity to tell you a little about R2: what it is, why it’s special, and the great new features that have been introduced to Windows Server in the R2 release.

First, what is R2?  R2 is a full release of Windows Server 2003, based on Service Pack 1, with significant new components.  It’s not a feature pack, roll-up, option pack, or any other type of release we’ve done in the past.  As a full release, it will replace Windows Server 2003 in all sales channels so, generally speaking, when a customer walks into a software store to buy off the shelf or purchases a system with Windows Server pre-installed, they’ll get R2.  And why wouldn’t they?  It’s everything Windows Server 2003/SP1 is with the addition of some great new features.

The next question that might come up is: why do an R2 release?  In order to deliver value to our customers with greater consistency and more predictability, the Windows Server Division has adopted a new release cycle wherein we will release a major version of Windows Server about every 4 years.  Those are releases like Windows Server 2003 and “Longhorn Server.”  About 2 years after each major release, we’ll deliver an update release.  Windows Server 2003 R2 is the first such update release.  This means that we will offer to our customers a new release of Windows Server every 2 years, alternating between major and update releases.  This release cycle allows us to best of breed functionality to our users when they need it and in ways that make it easy for them to consume.

We know, from talking with our customers, that delivering new features and more functionality is not enough.  To make update releases like R2 useful to our customers, we also had to make it easy for them to consume into their existing environment.  That means a few things…  First, we’ve based R2 on Windows Server 2003 SP1 and have made no core OS changes – most of R2’s new features are installed optionally, via Add/Remove Windows Components.  That means R2 has the same application compatibility, performance, and reliability as SP1.  Therefore, if a customer has already adopted SP1 in their environment, they can feel comfortable dropping R2 into the same environment with little additional testing.  Further, R2 will be serviced along with Windows Server 2003 as one servicing tree.  This means that there will be one set of Service Packs and patches that can be applied to both Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2 boxes.  While it wasn’t easy, internally, for us to do this, it’s something we all felt must be part of how we do update releases such as R2.

Finally, before talking about some of the cool new features in R2, a few words about what it was like to introduce a new type of Windows release.  Given R2 is Windows’ first update release, a big part of the challenge was, simply, doing it.  Since the R2 release schedule has coincided with other, very important Windows releases (such as Windows XP SP2, Windows Server 2003 SP1, and Windows Vista/Windows Server Longhorn) we’ve constantly been faced with the challenge of managing the corresponding resource overlap in a way that allows us to deliver a compelling R2 release while, at the same time, not impeding progress on other product releases.  With today’s launch of R2, I’m happy to say that the many people who have contributed to R2 have been successful with this goal.  Nearly 100% of the people working on R2 also worked, and are working, to develop each of the releases mentioned above.  Given the great product launches of 2005 along with a full pipe of upcoming releases, through Longhorn Server, this is a very exciting time for us all here at Microsoft.

After Windows Server 2003 shipped, we received loads of feature suggestions from our customers.  Our product planners and engineers looked at the feedback as well as the work the component teams were doing at the time and decided to focus R2 on three main areas:  identity management, storage management, and branch office solutions.

Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) is the first feature I want to talk about.  It gives companies the ability to extend the active directory over the “cloud” and across organizational boundaries.  This allows seamless cross-company collaboration.  Utilizing the passive-mode of WS-Authentication protocol, companies that have deployed ADFS can share their internal web sites run on IIS with identities at other companies.

In storage management, we added file screening, customizable reporting, and [finally :-)] directory-based quotas.  Administrators now have the built-in ability to prevent certain types of files being stored on corporate file shares, automatically report on space utilization, and to flexibly restrict the amount of file space used by individuals on a directory-level.  With the exponential growth of storage needs in IT today, these features are in dire need.  I know that I would have liked to have the quota and reporting mechanisms when I ran the internal redirected My Documents deployment testing in Windows.

Last, Windows Server 2003 R2 added an efficient protocol for file replication (DFS-R).  By replicating only the changes in a file across a DFS forest, we are able to keep file servers up-to-date with the latest copies of a file must more efficiently and faster than previous versions of Windows.  Additionally, our hardware management tools take advantage of the WS-Management protocol to provide post-crash and pre-boot access for certain server systems.  Last, the Print Management Console (PMC) gives administrators an easy-to-use GUI for managing printer queues and shared printers, all within the well-known Microsoft Management Console (MMC) framework.  With these features, it is no longer necessary to incur the high costs of administration inherent in keeping systems on site at a branch office.

Each of these features is baked into the Windows Server 2003 code base.  These features are not bolted-on, but rather integrated with the code that made up Windows Server 2003.  For example, they are all installed via the Optional Component Manager (OCM); the same installation mechanism as all optional components.  Wherever possible we leveraged features already available on Windows Server 2003 and were successful in not modifying the kernel, shell, or any of the Windows Server API set.  As a result, R2 is as secure, compatible, and reliable as the original release of Server 2003.

We speak for the entire team when we say that we are extremely proud to have been part of bringing this to our customers.  R2 gives Windows Server a reliable, predictable release cycle as well as addressing key needs of the marketplace.

Eric & Mark